Sunday, July 13, 2014

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia: Paradise (#4) in the Woods

Around 7-8am the next day, we checked out of our hostels in Zadar and hopped into two taxis to take us to Plitvice Lakes National Park. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is halfway between Zadar and Zagreb. It is made up of sixteen lakes connected by a series of waterfalls set in the woodlands. It is one of the top tourist attractions in Croatia, and it was truly a wonderful hiking experience. When we were in Zadar, we saw a couple of group excursion offers to the lakes, but after much discussion, the eight of us decided to "choose our own adventure" and save a handful of kunas on the side. Before we started the drive, we and the taxi drivers stopped at a grocery store on the outskirts of Zadar so that we could pick up our bread and cheese for lunch. The taxi ride was about an hour and a half to two hours.  The driver was very sweet and barely spoke English. He sped down the winding roads, but thankfully he was a cautious driver when the rain arrived as we approached the national park.

We spent the day along a couple of the trails in the park. It did rain most of the day, and I was terrified that I was going to slip and hurt myself, but my encounters with various people were a great distraction. The first encounter was with the multiple masses of Asians. They were everywhere and they never moved out of the way or followed life's traffic rule: stay to the right. In addition to constantly being in the way, the members of these large groups often tried silly things to create shortcuts on the paths. I watched one man try to hop from one path to another (the paths were perpendicular with water underneath) and he almost did the splits, but instead tumbled right into the creek soaking himself. I couldn't help but laugh.

I met the second group while we were waiting for a boat to take us across one of the lakes. They were a German couple from Munich who was hiking with their Goldendoodle puppy. It was an adorable puppy, and I knew from first glance that it was a doodle. I showed them photos of Ziggy, Blu, and Rufus (fellow Goldendoodles), and we bonded over our love for these brilliant dogs. I was surprised the puppy could handle the paths (there were many gaps between wood planks and some tricky areas to maneuver along with the large groups of people), but he seemed to do a fine job.

The third group came into the picture while we were on the boat. They were a medium-sized group of Mormon missionaries based in Zagreb. I spent a good portion of the hike talking to a student about my age who was traveling with them. He said that being a missionary in the Balkan states was especially difficult. It was not the various languages that made it tough, but the fact that he was an American trying to convert others. Many of the local ethnic groups dislike Americans and being Mormon did not help. He mentioned receiving death threats and other aggressive interactions. I asked him what kept him going, and he said "he was meant to do the work he was doing."

My interactions were the cherries on top of the views in the park. Below are photos from that day. I took the photos with my cell phone because of the rain. I didn't want to put my borrowed DSLR at risk.

The rainwater brought out all of the vibrant green colors

The park's logo

We had to take this bus to get across the park to a safe starting point for the hike. The recent rain flooded some of the paths.

Cloudy lake and cloudy sky

One of the small waterfalls

The group in front of a large waterfall

The large waterfall from a distance

Waterfalls and lakes tucked in the woods

The trails were marked by the wooden bridges. We did go off of the path a couple of times ... Shh!

Photo taken by Michael Friedrich (too good not to share)

Photo taken by Michael Friedrich (too good not to share)
At the end of the day, we trekked over to the bus stop to wait for the bus to Zagreb. While we were waiting, a taxi driver with a van pulled up asking if we wanted a ride. I was skeptical at first, but he offered us a good deal. The eight of us got in the van and did the two to three hour drive to Zagreb from the national park.

The next blog post will explain how we ended up stranded in Zagreb. Adventures in Croatia ...

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